Lag Kills – How to improve your gameplay with smart connectivity

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Ever had this situation?  You are in the lead, you are about to score, shoot, or cross the finishing line and – boom – you lost. What went wrong?  Maybe it was not the level of skill at fault, but instead an often forgotten but essential part of a great gaming experience.  Gamers, from pro to casual, invest a lot in their gaming rigs and on the actual games.  However, they may all be missing out on getting the best performance and not showcasing their real skills, by overlooking one vital piece of their gaming kit: the network.

Common gaming problems like lag, latency and unstable ping, jitter or screen-freezes are often directly attributable to the network connection.  Even when there is not a visible problem, network connectivity – if not optimised – could be slowing down or affecting the performance of the game.  While the actual data packets most games send are quite tiny and ultimately don’t take up much bandwidth, other connected devices can get in the way and slow down those little gaming data packets, creating problems like lag spikes.

It’s like a conveyor belt with lots of little boxes: if you start overloading the conveyor belt with other people’s boxes the whole production process slows down. With more devices being connected in most homes and other locations, this challenge is going to increase.  Today’s highly immersive games, such as MMORPGs and shooters, depend on a continuous and reliable flow of data.

Levelling the playing field

Plus, in multiplayer games, the quality of different people’s connectivity can mean that not everyone is on the same level playing field.  Compare it to car racing: unless everyone has the same spec car, it’s not fair: a good network connection and router can be like having the fastest, best-handling car on the track.

More of us are playing games more often: the global games market will grow to reach a predicted $128.5 billion by 2020 (according to the NEWZOO 2017 Global Gaming Market Report) so it makes sense to give proper attention to the connectivity gamers need.

So how do you make sure you’re getting the best network connection?  There are a few factors to consider, not least of which is speed, but also other features and techniques that can make a big difference.  First, start by testing the service from the Internet Service Provider.  It goes without saying that a DSL line will not compare with, say, high speed fibre in terms of top speed, but a wireline test will find out what data speeds are really being delivered (a 10Mbps line doesn’t necessarily provide 10Mbps in practice).  If it’s poor, then consider switching up to a better ISP service if possible.

Look inwards

Regardless of the external Internet connectivity, improving the internal networking will have a major impact.  It will help to maintain a good ISP service level, or make the most of a slow one, whether going for a wired or wireless connection.  While enthusiast or pro-gamers are likely to still opt for a wired solution, wireless connectivity is increasingly the choice for gamers, not least because of the flexibility it provides.  Plus, most routers will have the option of both wired (including Ethernet) and wireless connectivity, providing the best of both worlds.

With a Wi-Fi router, mobile users, console and/or PCs can co-exist on the same network, particularly relevant as more games, such as Fortnite and PUBG, are now cross-platform.  While mobile gaming is still the biggest games market segment – accounting for 42 per cent of all games revenue in 2018, smartphones accounting for 75 per cent of that – PC and console gamers still account for a healthy chunk of the total market.  Whatever the platform, everyone can benefit from a wire-free connection.

That said, if there’s already a Wi-Fi router in place, it may not be fit for purpose, particularly if it is a couple of years old or more (in which case, there is a strong chance outdated firmware and software will be limiting performance) or if it’s a standard-issue one from the service provider (in which case, it is likely to be quite basic, let alone optimized for gaming).

Of course, reducing the number of actively connected users, devices or apps will improve the bandwidth available for good gaming, but it may still not be enough and after all, who wants to have to switch everything else off every time they want to play Overwatch or FIFA? Let alone persuade the rest of the family or apartment that they must disconnect?

Smart connectivity

Instead, upgrade the Wi-Fi router, pick one of the latest-generation models, and expect to see a massive improvement, with enough horse-power to support simultaneous users, apps and devices.  Go one step further and choose a router specifically designed for gaming and benefit from a host of new features designed to maximize flexible usage and performance.  For example, a gaming router with a Geo-Filter should reduce the risk of lag.

Here’s why: lag is dependent on latency, which is all about ping times, in other words, the time to send a signal to the game server or opponent and for them to respond.  One of the biggest factors governing latency is server location.  The Internet is, after all, a network of servers around the world, so it makes sense that the fewer nodes through which a piece of data must travel, the faster the response.

A Geo-Filter makes sure that the player connects to a game server within their specified geographical area.  It does this by the player specifying a chosen radius and he or she can also test the ping to a connected server, then black-list or white-list it for the future.

Beyond that, Quality of Service (QoS) is another technical feature that can make the most of network connectivity.  QoS helps a user decide what type of traffic is prioritized, so gameplay can be smooth, even when bandwidth-greedy apps are also connected.   However, not all QoS solutions are created equal.

Look for QoS that tackles the challenge in more than one way, for instance features that ensure gaming traffic and devices get priority, particularly when the network is congested, plus the ability to ringfence specified amounts of bandwidth for different devices and set individual prioritization.

Flexibility

Together, this clever little trio helps create a network optimized for gaming, all managed via the router’s interface.  On that point, while most of us want a ‘fit and forget’ router, life changes: devices, apps and users get added or taken away, so if that is likely to happen, it can make sense to build in some flexibility.  Look for a solution that has an easy-to-use interface for making any necessary changes.

There are a multitude of features, techniques, types of router, wired and wireless options to look at, but the bottom line is that while the network may not be the first thing that many gamers would think about when updating their rig, it is one that can make a real difference.  Most gamers would not settle for a cheap headset designed for office use when playing favourite MMORPGs, so why settle for anything less than the best possible network connection?

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